A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, my fondest memory of a Star Wars game was replaying the Battle of Hoth in Shadows of the Empire. And sure, I took immense pleasure in force-pushing battle droids into walls in Lego Star Wars. But how long has it been since Star Wars fans received a game that was truly special? Thankfully, developer Respawn has delivered a classic in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. This is the narrative and gameplay experience that fans have been clamoring for. It is also a worthy entry into the Star Wars canon. Don’t believe me? “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
Young Padawan Cal Kestis has survived Order 66; an imperial edict to hunt down and kill all Jedi. Cal attempts to lay low by taking a mundane 9-5 job until he has no choice but to use his powers to save a co-worker from an accident. Though his supervisors are likely thrilled that Cal helped them avoid a messy workman’s comp case, the Empire is less than pleased to learn of a surviving Jedi. The young Padawan fleas, and so his journey begins.
In true Star Wars fashion, Cal soon joins a ragtag group of heroes aboard their vessel, the Mantis. The cast includes Cere, a former Jedi, Greez, the ship’s captain, and BD-1, a lovable little droid. BD is Cal’s closest companion and shines as the breakout star. The droid’s puppy-like enthusiasm adds the perfect amount of charm and lightheartedness to an otherwise dark tale. Cere needs Cal’s help to acquire a list of the galaxy’s force-sensitive children in an effort to hide them from the Empire. A sense of dread is ever-present as red lightsaber-wielding baddies, AKA Inquisitors, stalk our heroes and seek the list for the dark side.
In many ways, Jedi: Fallen Order is a celebration of the most fun and satisfying gaming elements from the last decade. The Darksouls style combat clearly wears its heart on its sleeve, while climbing walls and exploring tombs is reminiscent of Uncharted and recent Tomb Raider games. Returning to a previously inaccessible area and progressing with a new ability feels fantastic here. This hook is, of course, famously inspired by Metroid, Castlevania, and, well, 80% of games that hit the Nintendo Eshop.
Personally, I have never played a “Souls” game, mainly because my wife would become upset with me if I rage-threw another controller into the wall. But I am now intrigued after having such a blast with the combat in Jedi: Fallen Order. Less intimidating than “Souls” games, players can choose their difficulty level whenever they like (though not naming easy mode “all too easy” was a missed opportunity.) Success in battle involves precision dodges, blocks, and parries with force abilities mixed in. Which strategy is best to defeat that giant ugly ogre? That is something that the player will have to figure out through educated guesses, trial, and error. There is time for contemplation while frequently staring at a respawn screen.
Early on, combat requires careful and conservative choices. Running away and allowing the force meter to build will often seem like a fantastic idea. But as Cal learns new force abilities and lightsaber skills, combat really opens up and becomes immensely satisfying. Countering an attack at exactly the right moment creates the perfect feeling of empowerment. And experimentation is constantly rewarded when combining force abilities with lightsaber skills. A big, stupid grin could be found on my face every single time I force-pulled a stormtrooper into my impaling lightsaber.
The “metroidvania” style of exploration is, mostly, just as rewarding as the combat. As previously mentioned, Cal is underpowered at the onset with a modest amount of health, lightsaber skills, and force abilities. Cal visits, and revisits, a handful of planets in order to earn upgrades and progress the story. I felt genuine excitement when realizing that a cool new ability would unlock a previously blocked area. Hopping between planets fits this mechanic perfectly. Speaking of planets, they are a fun mix of new and familiar, though I do wish there was at least one planet from the original trilogy. Lack of fast travel does hurt the game at times. A long backtrack to a remote location can feel like a slog, especially with a less than helpful map. I threw my hands up and used a Wiki more than once. Fortunately, the vast majority of exploration is as joyous as it is rewarding.
“I have a bad feeling about this” was my prevailing thought when staring down icy slopes. Traversal is sometimes frustrating and other times quite fun. Sliding can be particularly hard to control and I died, like, a bunch of times. But when a sequence of sliding, swinging, and wall-running is perfectly executed, it actually does feel great. The cosmetic collectibles are fine. I enjoyed the colorful ponchos, lightsaber tweaks and skins for BD-1 and the Mantis. Were they ever worth an arduous backtrack? Typically no. But it’s nice that they exist for completionists.
The darker tone of Jedi: Fallen Order is brought to life through excellent sound and cutscenes. Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab capture the essence of the story with an outstanding score. Cameron Monaghan turns in a commendable performance as Cal and Debra Wilson delivers a strong performance as Cere. I especially appreciated the attention to detail in the audio design. Lightsabers and blasters sound as if pulled directly from Return of the Jedi. As for the cutscenes, they are straight eye candy and particularly memorable when bookending boss encounters. Lightsaber duels feel truly epic thanks to how well the audio and visual elements coalesce at big moments.
Are there bugs? Sure, there are bugs. “A great many” of them. Bugs that are as giant as the spiders on Kashyyyk (yes I know that spiders are not bugs). For starters, gameplay visuals just do not look as crisp, graphically, as some of the game’s contemporaries. For example, Titanfall 2, released by the same developer and publisher (EA), is a far prettier game despite being released years earlier. During gameplay, aliasing and jagged edges are common in general. And sometimes, all of the characters in a scene arrive right on time, while certain textures arrive late to the party. And the player will certainly experience some framerate drops. Loading times can be long and inconsistent as well, particularly following death. Luckily, Respawn has addressed the major bugs, including hard crashes and stormtroopers becoming stuck in walls, through patches. The remaining bugs are numerous but do not interrupt gameplay and ultimately do not take away from the enjoyment of the game whatsoever. I never died because of a quick framerate drop and a cutscene was never ruined for me due to a late texture pop-in.
For me, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order was the best game of 2019 and my favorite Star Wars title of all time. The technical issues are easily overlooked when considering how much fun there is to be had. From combat to exploration, there are a variety of different elements to absolutely fall in love with. The powerful story resonated with me in a way that was similar to Rogue One, which is perhaps the highest praise I can offer. Jedi: Fallen Order is easy to recommend for any action-adventure fan and a must-play for Star Wars die-hards. The odds that I would miss out on the inevitable sequel are approximately 3,720 to 1.